Thursday, August 31, 2006
What's worse, Trafalgar or Titanic?
Returning to one of my favorite subjects, we have the long-famous Susan Cooper's new novel Victory. This one has got two alternating storys that are mysteriously connected. Sam finds himself pressed into service onto Admiral Lord Nelson's flagship just prior to the Battle of Trafalgar (1805, for those few who wonder but don't know. Sam's story actually begins in 1803.). Present-day Molly has just been unhappily transplanted from her beloved London to less interesting Connecticut, and she's not at all happy about it. Molly has always feared water, but when she comes across a rare biography of the sea hero Nelson, she becomes fascinated and begins to experience an unsettling connection with the events 100 years prior - and especially with Sam. She begins to see flashes through his eyes.
Now this is at least the third fictional version I've read of that crucial sea victory. Augment that with more kids on ships books than I can count (2 just this year, 3 when the next Bloody Jack comes out in a few weeks), and I think I can say that I'm pretty familiar with the genre, despite the fact that I've never actually been on a ship with sails. I'm not going to concern myself with Molly, as I mostly found her rather uninteresting, though realistic, well, except for that whole "I see the past" thing... (by the way Blossom Culp SO did it better). This leaves Sam. There were only a few items that were fresh to me. Sam's uncle, who is pressed alongside him has a life-long career of rope-making. It was very interesting, and I wish we could have seen more of that while actually on the ship. What most note, however, is that this is indeed the only book I've read that gets this close to Nelson - he has a few significant cameos. All of the characters revere the man with authenticity - the mere hint of his presence creates a palpable hum throughout the ship. The smallest words of kindness or praise from "the man himself" is repeated and treasured. Cooper nailed that. Fiercely. +10, nothing offensive, but, you know, what with the bloody death and all during sea battles, it gets a little graphic...I think pink mist might have figured in somewhere...(p. 153). War sucks.
Oh, one additional issue - Molly is always talking about how she can feel Sam's presence and that he's trying to communicate with her - warn her away from certain things and sights, but there is no reciprocation on Sam's side. He never says anything like, "hey, I feel a bit possessed right now. That's weird." I'm just sayin'.